Study for Portrait IX

Artist Francis Bacon


Accession year 1989

Oil on canvas, 152.5 x 116.5 cm

The Masonite sheet on the back of the painting features two labels from the Harry N. Abrams Family Collection; a label from the Solomon H. Guggenheim Museum, indicating the presence of the painting in the Art Institute of Chicago exhibition (then at the Guggenheim in New York) in 1963-64; a label from the Galerie Beyeler, indicating the presence of the painting in the 1987 exhibition (no. 9); a type-written label with no header that reads “L-4277 G 10 I F. Bacon ‘Study for Portrait IX’ 115.5 x 151”; a label from the Gagosian Gallery in New York with details of the painting. There is an illegible red ink stamp on the lining canvas on the back.

Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte

Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin

Inv. no. CC.11.P.BAC.1957.A60

Provenance: Hanover Gallery, London; Martha Jackson Gallery, New York; Harry N. Abrams Family Collection, New York; Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art, Part I, 8 November 1989 (lot 6).

Exhibitions: Northampton 1963; New York-Chicago 1963-64 (p. 56 ill., no. 41); Basel 1987 (no. 9, ill.); Lugano 1993 (p. 56, no. 25, ill.); Malmö-Rivoli 1995 (pp. 150-151, ill.); London-Rivoli 2004-05 (p. 164); Milan 2008a (p. 235, no. 25); C. Christov-Bakargiev, M. Beccaria, M. Vecellio, M. Cafagna, ed., ESPRESSIONI CON FRAZIONI, exhibition without catalogue (Rivoli, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 24 May – 27 November 2022).

Bibliography: Alley 1964, p. 108, no. 124, ill.; Davis, Yard 1986, pp. 28-29, ill. no. 27; Harrison 2016, vol. II, pp. 482, 484, 486, 488, 489 ill., 490, 492 no. 57-05; The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 26, ill; Christov-Bakargiev 2021, vol. II, p. 896, ill.

Study for Portrait IX is a portrait of Peter Lacy, an raf pilot in the Battle of Britain, then a test pilot. Lacy was the man whom Francis Bacon loved more than any other and with whom he had an emotionally intense, tumultuous and violent relationship between 1952 and 1957.

Executed between 1956 and 1957, Study for Portrait IX is a portrait of Peter Lacy, an raf pilot in the Battle of Britain, then a test pilot. Lacy was the man whom Francis Bacon loved more than any other and with whom he had an emotionally intense, tumultuous and violent relationship between 1952 and 1957. Many of the artist’s paintings of men from the 1950s, including those from the Study for Portrait and Study for Figure series, are “either wholly or indirectly inspired by Lacy”,1 who moved to Tangiers in 1955, where he supported himself by playing the piano in a bar and drank himself to death. Bacon often visited Lacy in Tangiers, but Study for Portrait IX, one of the finest works painted by the artist in the 1950s, was probably painted from memory, as suggested by its hazy character and its appearance of being a remembered image, not observed from life.

Set against a dark, deep and velvety emerald background, a colour that Bacon had been working with for some months, and painted on the unprepared side of the canvas so as to really impregnate the fibres of the fabric, we see the usual white linear geometric profile with which Bacon framed his figures at the time, thereby reducing and defining the space of the canvas.2 Within this framework (the perimeter of which is repeated off-axis, more subtly, like a blurry halo) we see Lacy, seated with his legs crossed; the man’s right shoulder and arm stand out freely against the background on the left, as if this were a first attempt to place the figure in the space, later abandoned, but left visible, evoking the earlier painting of Pablo Picasso and the more recent work of Willem De Kooning in his pieces from the 1940s and still present, for example, in Woman I.

During that period, Bacon spoke twice about De Kooning: in 1959 rather mockingly;3 three years later (according to Ted Morgan, the biographer of William Burroughs) he instead praised De Kooning for having exploded abstraction, bringing the image back into the picture.4 As was the case in De Kooning’s painting, Study for Portrait IX contains numerous elements that convey the idea of immediacy in its execution, such as the decisive brushstrokes, the thick applications used to define the figure, the drips and the reworked outlines, not only on the shoulder but also on the right foot.

The sensual quality of the paint application in Bacon’s art from this period, which is particularly apparent in this painting, has led critics to include certain names in the list of Bacon’s favourite artists, such as Claude Monet, J. W. M. Turner and Pierre Bonnard. It has also been noted that the figure does not have his mouth open, as often seen in other male portraits by Bacon from the 1950s, but just a slight smirk on his face. As regards the pose, Bacon simply shows a seated man, with a few signs of movement in the rendering of his right shoulder and foot. And yet, perhaps because the figure is resting on nothing or because the painter has omitted painting a hand and foot, the image conveys a certain sense of tension.

As Lawrence Alloway notes, Bacon “developed a style of unpremeditated gesture, of the inadvertently and obscurely revealing, based on the expressions and movements that we all share and manifest unknowingly.”5 This characteristic gives the image an obsessive quality discussed by Robert Melville, one of the earliest critics to show an interest in Bacon’s work, in an article written at the very moment Study for Portrait IX was being painted. The scholar described how Bacon was familiar with the obsessive presence, stating that his enthusiasm for painting as a destructive force was inseparable from his belief in an indestructible psychic content specific to certain images,6 which the artist borrowed from Surrealism.

Bacon heard about the death of forty-six-year-old Lacy, with whom he had stopped contact some time ago, via a telegram sent to him with cards congratulating him on the previous day’s opening of his solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery in May 1962.

[Claudio Zambianchi]

1 M. Peppiat, “Francis Bacon in the 1950s”, in Norwich-Milwaukee-Buffalo 2006, p. 40.

2 Sylvester 1987, pp. 22-23.

3 Peppiat 1996, p. 182.

4 Cit. in Farson 1993, p. 147.

5 L. Alloway, “Introduction”, in New York-Chicago 1963-64, p. 22.

6 Melville 1957, p. 83.